Introduction to compression- How to use compressors
When it comes to mixing ,many questions come to our minds. One of these and it’s one of the most commons is “ What effects should I use for giving life to my song ,more energy and become radio-ready?”
That’s why today we’re starting a series of plug ins reviews ,which are the most importand and very helpful in the mixing procedure. We begin with compression and how we can use the compressor properly. I have heard a lot of times from friends or my students saying that they don’t know how to use compressor and it’s very complicated. Some of them they just don’t know what a compressor is doing and some of them who are familiar with compressor ,they hesitate to use it,because it has too many knobs.
Compressor is a very powerful tool we have in our disposal ,but it can destroy the entire mix at the same time,if we don’t use it right! I have heard many opinions what a compressor can do such as “ It gives more energy to the song” or “ the song sounds more punchy” or “It makes the song sound louder” and some other like that.
In simple words compressor is just a volume fader. Yes , exactly ! It’s like a volume fader like the ones you have in your digital mixer except that this fader is an automated one. What do I mean by that? Let me explain. Compressor turns down the volume only on the loud parts of a recording! Amazing ?! it’s like you have an assistant for this plug in and he will handle this fader for you.
In the picture below you see a stock compressor that comes with Cubase 5.if you don’t have Cubase but another DAW,that’s ok.All DAW’s have their stock compressor and they are all the same.As you can see compressor has some knobs Attack releas,Threshold, Gain(Make up).Let’s talk about each one of these knobs
Attack: With this knob we can define how quickly you want to start compression,how fast you want the compressor to grab the audio signal.It’s like you are saying to your assistant “When you hear the audio,pull the fader down!” if you set slow attack,then you say to your assistant “Let some audio signal pass through for a while and then pull the fader down” Do you understand it? Simple,isn’t it? It depends on the fast or slow attack how quickly the compressor starts compressing –squeezing the audio signal
Release: You can say that it’s the opposite of attack. With this knob you can define how fast you let the audio go and bring it back to its original volume level .If you set fast release it’s like you tell to your assistant “When you turn the audio down you must release it and set the volume level where it was immediately”. With the slow release you tell your assistant to keep the volume fader down for a while and then set it where it was.
Threshold on the other hand is a very useful knob but it’s complicated at the same time. Even I when I first started mixing ,I thought for a long time that the best compression configuration is around 0db. I was so wrong! If you set the threshold to 0db,then nothing happens! This the amazing with the compressor. It compresses only what you tell him to.It doesn’t squeeze your entire recording ,but only the loud parts that come over the volume level you have set. Nothing happens below this volume level. Everything is on its original volume level. In the picture the threshold is set to 26.1 db. You tell your assistant “When audio signal passes this volume fader then pull the fader down. Everything below this volume, leave it as it is.” Very simple and very effective!
With ratio knob we set how much we want our assistant to turn the volume down. With the previous knobs we have set the time for grabbing the audio and how fast or slow set the fader to its first place.With this knob we set how far we can pull the fader down!if we set high ratio then we pull the fader too much. Think it like this and I’m sure you will start having better results. Threshold and ratio are the two knobs we have to pay attention on compression.
Gain or make up (gain ) is another important knob we have to understand . I have heard many times from a lot of musicians , home studio owners that compression makes everything louder. How is that?
Compression makes the loud parts quieter but also makes the quite parts louder. In that way you have to bring some balance in your recording between the compressed parts and these parts that aren’t.For this reason we use the gain knob. If we notice the waveform of a vocal ,as the example below you can see that there are some loud parts and some quieter parts in the same verse or chorus. That’s why we use the make up gain knob ,to set a proper balance of volume and dynamics in our recording. If you listen to a song ,you can hear everything so clearly even if that is a whisper or a very low singing part. And do you know why? Because it has compressed properly. I want you to think compression like this way and I’m sure that you will start using the compressor right in your mixes. We’re going to talk about mixing techniques with compression in upcoming posts.
Leave your comments below if that was helpful for you and tell me what you are thinking about.